US car sales: Detroit Three return to the top

Chrysler outsold Toyota in the US last month, allowing the Detroit 3 to regain the top sales positions for the first time since 2006.

Toyota, hit hard by the impact of the Japanese earthquake on supply chains, slipped to fourth place in terms of sales in May, allowing Chrysler to rejoin General Motors and Ford at the top of the table.

In a period described by Automotive News analyst Jesse Snyder as "an odd sales month," overall sales fell four percent on the same period last year, to 1.1 million light vehicles, the lowest number since August when adjusted for seasonality.

Soaring oil prices resulted in unusually high demand for compact and subcompact cars, but shortages caused by the Japanese earthquake meant that many consumers decided to sit tight with new purchases.

General Motors saw sales dip by one percent, while Ford fell three percent, according to figures from the automakers compiled by Automotive News.

Chrysler, buoyed by a refreshed lineup, saw sales gain ten percent, while Hyundai/Kia was up 34 percent (coming within a thousand units of outselling Toyota) and VW was up 24 percent.

The major fallers were Japanese automakers - Toyota posted a 33 percent drop in sales, while Honda fell 23 percent and Nissan dipped nine percent.

For America's largest automakers, the surge in demand for smaller vehicles was vindication of a strategy which was avoided for years.

"Even when gas prices are advancing we’re able to compete in this market really effectively in a way that we've never been able to do it before, and keep the sales momentum going," said Ford's George Pipas.

"Customers continue to demand better fuel economy and our commitment to produce high-quality, fuel-efficient vehicles is paying off," said General Motors' Don Johnson.

The most popular automakers in the US - May 2011

1. General Motors
2. Ford
3. Chrysler
4. Toyota
5. Hyundai-Kia
6. Honda (American)
7. Nissan

Data from automakers/ Automotive News

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